|All interviews were taped and documented. They are available through the Reference Department of the Teaneck Public Library. The Library is not responsible for the accuracy of the statements nor does it necessarily endorse the opinions expressed.|
|DATE OF INTERVIEW:||December, 1984|
|TRANSCRIBER:||Jackie Kinney (6/1985)|
(I) Mrs. Strean, the first question I would like to ask you is when you came to Teaneck, why you came to Teaneck and how you found Teaneck when you were here, when you came?
(N) We came here in, actually moved in in July, I believe it was the 27th of July in 1964. I remember the date because I had a ten month old baby that I was nursing and I sat in the front door here nursing the baby and directing the moving men as to what box to put in what room. It was a terribly hot day. In fact, when I went for a drink of water and I tasted it, having come from Manhattan where we lived, I said, oh, why did I move here, it tastes terrible. But now I love it because I am perfectly used to it.
(I) I still can't drink New Jersey water, not willingly. And did you have any special reasons for coming to Teaneck?
(N) I don't think we really picked Teaneck appreciating all its qualities at the time that I do now because then I remember putting a point of a compass on my husband's office in New York City and drawing a circle and being shocked to see that something called New Jersey was closer than Westchester or Long Island where most people I know tended to move when they didn't live in the city and I knew nobody who lived out here. I really didn't know much about the town. I did an exhaustive job in Leonia where we had first put in a bid on a house but then didn't follow through because the assessor pointed out that the price being asked was way over what it should have been and it is better because that house was a very old house and I'm really not much of a house person and I wouldn't have liked redoing that house. After the first real estate agent showed us forty houses, we started completely ignorant about homes and what we were looking for. Some other agent from a different company called and showed us one house, this house, which we liked. I did a little research to find the quality of the educational system and so on and was pleased with what I heard about at that time.
(I) Since you knew nothing about Teaneck when you arrived, what did you find?
(N) Well I would say first that my major priority in life were my children and my husband and with, as I say, a ten week old baby when I moved in, and a three year old took a huge amount of my life and time. I am personally not the kind of feminist who believes that women should have children and let someone else bring them up. I had worked at the social work profession for a number of years before. I was a late mother even in those days which was unusual but child care took a major part of my life and interest, I probably got to meet other people through pushing a baby carriage around the block, and those people became important to me as friends, helping fill day outdoors with the kids. It was really when my youngest child was about two or three years old that I became really bothered by what was happening in the world, in the Viet Nam War.
(I) That would have been around 1965?
(N) '66 or something like that. It was funny because where I had lived in Manhattan, I remember a woman in my building talking about Women's Strike for Peace and I listened politely but I sort of went, "huh; what the hell is that?" I really didn't relate to it at all. Somehow I just wasn't educated as some people were about what was happening. But I became really bothered finally and I said, "I cannot just live like this, I have to do something about it. I have to express myself in some way. And one of the women in Teaneck, also an "older" mother whose oldest child was the same age as my youngest one, with home I spent some time while the kids played together, she felt similarly to me. We got in touch with a few other people and went to a meeting which was called prior to Eugene McCarthy throwing his hat into the ring. But at the night of that meeting, he had just done so, we said, "well look, that looks like a good means of our vocalizing our concerns and having him express our interests and organizing behind him", which is how, rather soon, I got very heavily involved in at least that aspect of life in Teaneck.
(I) Well what then did you do? I mean, what were your various activities with this group? Was it the Women's Strike for Peace?
(N) No it wasn't. It was a totally unnamed group that just picked up that night, I'd say, there were eight or ten of us. None of the other people had I ever met before except this one other mother and it became the nucleus of what was, for Teaneck, Volunteers for McCarthy, I guess. And it was then that the group began to reach out to other people, put a notice in the newspaper, each of us talked to other people. We all came from different areas of Teaneck or different professions or whatever and we really grew tremendously in a very short time and the job that I took over then, though having little kids, was to be in charge of this quarter of Teaneck. I believe that we divided the town into quarters and I had the districts that lay in this area of town and three or four different people had election districts that I supervised.
(I) And what were your activities, what did you do?
(N) We really basically began door to door kind of contact. A lot of telephone contacts. Calling people, getting voter registration lists, and doing a grass roots movement in talking to people where we found many seeds there just ready to sprout, and other anxieties and concerns about what was happening in Viet Nam. And it was a lot of people grateful, saying I've been feeling terrible about this and I'm glad you're doing something.
(I) How many members do you think you had at your greatest point?
(N) Well it wasn't so much members. We had an overall person, then four sections of Teaneck; there are twenty one election districts and each of those had a person in charge and every block had a captain. It was wonderful, we became really good at that. To this day, though I've gotten so burned out after I did a number of things, I'll say to people, "I'll tell you exactly what to do but don't ask me to do it anymore. I'm tired. But at that time, we had a card file on every single person in Teaneck and talked to every person and knew whether he was for us or wavering or definitely not considering voting in the direction of opposing the war and that took a tremendous amount of effort and telephone time.
(I) When did you first go public? I mean what were your first public activities aside from organizing things, do you remember? Did you speak at the councilor anything?
(N) No, I don't think we ever dealt with the council per se. We really developed our own meetings which we announced in the newspapers, we had speakers, we had Cottage Parties. I can remember that immediately cottage parties were set up in people's houses. They invited neighbors and friends and we tried to find people who were able to speak and we found ourselves frequently with people where the speaker wasn't very well. informed and somebody else would, I remember one young man who was a reverend who came to this meeting just out of interest and by his thoughtful comments and his moral and humanitarian concerns, he turned out to be the focus of that whole first cottage party that we had and became one of the important people in our group because he really was better able to speak to others than the person we had brought in as a speaker who was rather dull and boring in his way of presenting the history of Viet Nam. You don't care so much about that.
(I) Well then you must have sort of separated off from political, McCarthy political thing in the end to get so many people involved didn't you. I mean some of them, they weren't all for McCarthy were they? Or did they all come to be for McCarthy?
(N) Well the first real focus was around McCarthy, no question that that was a beautiful means for people who wanted to speak out against the war to do it because what better way then to have a national public figure to rally around. In those days, he seemed OK to us. You know, he represented a moral point of view.
(I) I still think he did OK.
(N) Well in some ways. He let us down in the end. I think he became sort of kooky and self-involved but from that, I think your question implies really that though we lost that election, what grew out of it was the Peace Center of Bergen County. It was organized initially by a couple of men paying for the store at 396 Cedar Lane and with some guidance and help from New Jersey SANE and Dorothy Eldridge, (she's the executive director of that and is still at well over eighty, the guiding light there) and grew into a real, again, grass roots movement without political overtones or political affiliations. It was just people for peace.
(I) Did you encounter any hostility in the beginning of this from any of the people in town?
(N) Well, I remember that there was the Democratic Party group in town and there was something called the New Democratic Coalition which was a little bit more left of the Democratic party group per se; there was tremendous rivalry between them. I remember being very articulate and angry at one meeting which took place in my house. I wasn't aware of these groups and who they were and what went on between them at all. I saw the rivalry happening and I remember slapping it right down and saying saying something to the effect that I don't care about all the other political issues that you are involved in and who's jealous of whom, and who wants to be president, etc., etc. That we were all concerned about peace and that's our goal and that's where we all have to work together. I think they all became rather embarrassed at their personal aggrandizing feelings and just kind of maybe resented me because I was so outspoken on that issue but I felt very strongly that we had to focus on where we all were in agreement and not worry about the petty differences.
(I) In other words, the regular Democratic Party by this time you feel had turned against the Viet Nam War, did you feel that, or only some?
(N) No, I think some. I think that some of them were kind of floating and didn't really know. The party had not spoken out and some of them were much more traditional in their thinking though we had support from many, I believe, it would be very nice if we could all love each other, that's my goal and I wish it were everybody's goal and we could achieve that. With love and understanding we can all work together. We can live with differences and exist side by side and still find the common goals that we have.
(I) You got to a point where the Memorial Day Parade became an issue.
(N) Yes. I do remember that Memorial Day issue was a great concern to us but I'm not sure that I would swear that what I remember is chronologically or exactly how it happened and maybe others could fill you in on this but I remember one woman named Edith Cramer somehow stands out in my mind as someone who was very vocal and took a very strong leadership role in this issue. There was some horrible kind of business about wanting to wear death masks and white sheets or something which I think they did, if I remember correctly, but I believe at first that they may have joined the march without being invited, just joining on at the end.
(I) Do you remember what year this was?
(N) Not really. It had to be 69 or so. 68 or 69 I would think. Maybe 1970 because I think it was about the end of 1969 that we actually opened the Peace Center.
(I) Right. Well the first time this happened and some group of people just joined in the parade without being invited. And what was the reaction?
(N) There was anger from some of the veterans groups and even I remember some of the council people. Mostly I found I got along with them and I liked them and found people like Frank Hall who seemed to be a person whom a lot of people coalesce around and like or dislike strongly. He was always reasonable and helpful, where he could be. He was helpful to me a number of times in some of my other political involvements where we supported Henry Helstoski for Congress as a person who was supporting our peace efforts.
(I) But Frank Hall did at some meeting as I understand it, he did vote to permit the peace marches in the Memorial Day parade. Do you think that is the next year or do you think this is the year you are talking about? Apparently it did come up before the council.
(I) The very first time, I don't even remember how one had to officially be invited. I would think, why couldn't anybody march? But I think the first time just some of us marched without really being officially invited and that maybe in the future in order to head off a controversy that others brought up by objecting to this group's expressing its opinion, that there was a vote in the council that permitted it. Actually there was a misunderstanding it seems to me. People who were against the war were not belittling those who had died in past wars or those who had the right to do whatever they wanted. The focus should be on peace and loving and caring but making a battle between groups of people in town was no better than inciting the Viet Nam War. Really you didn't want to be part of anything that's got that backbiting and viciousness but I will say that whenever you stick your head out of your cocoon, you're going to get some shots taken at you.
(I) Well, so your recollection is only of this one parade. You don't remember. .
(N) No, there were other parades.
(I) You were able to take part in them.
(N) I think so. There may have been personal objections from groups or whatever but that officially
(I) You were part of the parade.
(N) We did participate. Yeah. That doesn't strike me frankly as a major, I mean as I think back at it, if you hadn't brought that up, I would never have thought about that. To me, it was much more expressing our opinion and our concerns for peace in many other ways such as the marches on Washington that took place where there was tremendous excitement and. .
(I) How many people from Teaneck went to that? .
(N) Oh hundreds of people. We had buses and buses full of people and I, with very little kids, decided with my husband that I really shouldn't leave them and that I did though a major job. It was my job to organize that and I arranged and did that whole March on Washington from Teaneck. I was there at six o'clock in the morning and I believe my kids were a little bit older by now, and I remember my older son going with the Americans for Peace bumper stickers and selling them for a dollar to cars going en route. But also we did some very good educational things like had every year a Posters for Peace Contest and a Poetry for Peace Contest in all of the schools of Bergen County which were invited. Sometimes the boards of education in certain towns reared up and decided, we will not participate in such an activity, and strangely enough the parochial schools, the Catholic schools particularly, participated to the hilt. .
(I) Well St. Anastasia's has always been very good about these things I think. About social issues . .
(N) Well all of them, all of the Catholic schools, because I never knew if they really cared about the issues so much as it was a chance for their kids to have an activity and participate in the community. There were so many talented kids, I could cry today when I think of some of the wonderful touching poems that kids wrote or some of the really wonderful quality of posters. In fact in my basement today there probably are a few of them still stuck up on the walls in the basement.
(I) Are any of them in storage anywhere?
(N) Oh they were used in a lot of ways. I think they eventually, most of them, went to New Jersey SANE where they were shown at times and put up at various lunches and brunches for peace and so on but I know I had a couple of them here and still have a few that are here. But we had huge auditoriums full of people, mixed social religious, economic groups of people where we gave out prizes and we had wonderful people judging the poems. I made some wonderful friends that way. One lady who was in her middle nineties who was a poetess, was a judge in some of these contests and we had really found qualified people who would volunteer to judge either in their field of art or in the field of writing and poetry, to judge the first graders, the fifth graders and so on. We had some wonderful things that were produced at the time.
(1) Did anyone from Teaneck go to the march in New York that started in Central Park, do you remember that, no, probably not. There were 300,000 people there, I think.
(N) Oh, that was later. I suppose Teaneck were there but not organized in any way that I was involved in. I remember being in New York that day. That was exciting. (pause in tape) Well the Peace Center stayed on for a number of years as a community activity in which we hired a director, we paid somebody to be working there instead of my just running in and having my three year old and six year old sit on the floor stuffing envelopes. Now you could just see a three year old into envelopes, whatever he could do, and he got pretty good at it and going door to door with me and delivering leaflets for various meeting and having huge public meetings. You learn a lot, such as it is more important to have a lot of people crowd into a small room than have even more people only half filling up a big auditorium when you want good stories that are going to come out in the press about it. We had big ABM meetings and we always had wonderful, high quality people speaking at these things.
(N) Yes, it was the Anti Ballistic Missile. We had a huge meeting in Bergen County. And then. .
(I) When was that, do you remember that?
(N) No, I could probably come up with that for you but. .
(I) I'll look it up.
(N) Helstoski was one of the speakers. A physics professor, Dr. Wolff, was one of the speakers. We had another politician who was a Republican. We had open forums on these issues which I think were really a public service at the time. But the Peace Movement went on with the board of directors and draft counselors and a really proper kind of organization for some time. I'm sorry that it eventually just ceased as a viable group right in Teaneck with a store front but that partly became a financial problem. I think we paid $90 a month rent and it went up to $350 at which point, we just were really tossed out by that. There is today what we call a peace site which exists in the Ethical Culture Building on Larch Avenue as the local peace site for various activities.
(I) Are there still any activities that you know of?
(N) Yes, there is a. Bergen SANE which is a Bergen County group of New Jersey SANE that is still basically working for peace but in many related liberal activities and they're a good group. In many ways they are concerned with stopping the dragging of nuclear waste products or radioactive materials through here. A lot of important issues. . I just feel that some of us probably got burned out, some people I think are fantastic, they're still involved up to their ears in these things and I just felt, I gave too much. I would be out at ten nights in a row, every night, for many causes. We kind of fell in from one thing to another because some of the people in your group who were for peace also were supporting Chavez in his strike against the vineyards that were mistreating migrant workers. And in fact I remember doing a whole study, Congressman Helstoski I remember, asked me to do a whole research thing for him which was fascinating to me. It was almost a thesis on the migrant workers. I set up the whole boycott in all the stores in Teaneck not to buy grapes and eventually that passed on into not to buy lettuce and we had our placards and we were in front of all the stores in Teaneck. We had a lot of good luck with that eventually. We found the usual hostility from the owners and then, not being angry, using my social work techniques. We tried to be understanding of where they are at, what their feelings are, and once people feel understood, they open their minds a little bit to hear what you have to say so that I think we really succeeded accomplishing our goals in both of those boycotts where the companies finally did negotiate with Chavez.